Student Stories

Melanie Sorensen

Conserving Wildlife: Melanie Sorensen, MAEd:NSEE '09

Melanie Sorensen, MAEd: Natural Science and Environmental Education ‘09, is pursuing her life’s passion as director of education at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Her journey to Colorado Springs took her first through Arkansas and Saint Paul before winding through Mongolia, Kenya, Fiji, Thailand, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Peru. But it really all began in Apple Valley at the Minnesota Zoo.

At age 5, on a trip to the zoo with her mother, Sorensen saw a female zoo keeper in rubber boots hosing down an exhibit and knew right then that she wanted to work in a zoo.

After studying at John Brown University in Arkansas, Sorensen returned to Minnesota for a job at the zoo that had inspired her as a child and was trained by some of the same people she had worked with while a high school volunteer there.

She worked as a zookeeper for a few years before transitioning to the zoo’s education department, where she ultimately decided that she wanted to practice what she preached about wildlife conservation. She took a year-long sabbatical and traveled four continents learning aboutand working onwildlife conservation and environmental education. It was a life-changing experience, she said.

Before leaving on her sabbatical, Sorensen began her graduate studies at Hamline in its Master of Arts in Education: Natural Science and Environmental Education (MAEd:NSEE) program. She did two years of coursework before taking a year to travel and then returned to Saint Paul to finish her capstone and receive her degree.

Getting an advanced degree in environmental education opened up new doors for Sorensen, including providing the credentials to work at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, where she was promoted to her current job as the director of education. “It’s a wonderful job and an amazing zoo,” Sorensen said. “I have the opportunity to make a difference by redesigning the way this zoo does education. We’re building mentorship relationships with students and walking alongside them as they develop their passions.”

Sorensen credits her Hamline MAEd:NSEE with helping to land her dream job in Colorado as well as being a contributing factor in earning her a nomination to be an Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leader. Hamline’s master’s degree, she said, “proves that you’re not just dabbling and that environmental education is a life-long pursuit.”

While in the program, she met many fellow informal and experiential educators who are now working in the field as naturalists, interpreters, park rangers, or zookeepers—people whom she still keeps in touch with today and calls on when questions arise.

For Sorensen’s master’s capstone project, she returned to her travel experiences, writing about environmental education around the world. She also developed curriculum and teacher training materials that were adopted by schools in Kenya and are still being used today.

Find out more about the Hamline School of Education's Master of Arts in Education: Natural Science and Environmental Education, or contact Hamline's Graduate Admission Office to learn more about joining the Hamline community.